What is respectful parenting?

One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you and in that moment you will know the immense value of peaceful, positive, respectful parenting.

L. R. Knost

Peaceful, positive, gentle, attachment, natural, connection parenting. They all sound pretty kind and cosy. But when I think about the kind of parent I want to be… it’s all of these things and more. Respectful parenting is the term that speaks to me.

Why, you might wonder, am I bothering to discuss parenting labels at all?

Labels, are notoriously tricky customers.

Do we even need labels to describe our parenting? Of course, we don’t.

Although it helps to find blog posts we might be interested in reading 🙂

What’s in a name?

There are two issues with labels that led me to write this post.

First, there’s that important matter of whether or not we all agree on a label’s definition.

I mention respectful parenting on this blog, a lot. My last post was called 20 Reassuring resources for respectful parenting at Christmas (and the whole year round)

I seem to have a bit of a thing for respectful parenting 🙂

Yet I’ve never explained what is respectful parenting. Or at least, what it means to me. And that’s about to change.

Second, as a sociologist, I can’t help but think self-fulfilling prophecy when labels are up for discussion.

Self-fulfilling prophecy is the idea that if we believe something to be true, even when it isn’t, we might make it so by our actions. Effectively changing the way we behave to fit in with a label, whether that be self-imposed or thrust upon us by someone else.

Think the classic ‘class clown’ or ‘disruptive influence’. Living up to their label? Or perhaps labels frame our thinking as observers, viewing behaviour through a particular lens are we led to certain kinds of assumptions and conclusions? It’s an interesting topic, I’ll revisit for sure.

But self-fulfilling prophecy’s not all bad.

Getting intentional with our parenting is about consciously making the effort to do the best we can for our children. And if embracing positive labels, and the direction they guide us, can harness a bit of that self-fulfilling prophecy power and help us be better parents, then I’m all for it. Some days we need all the help we can get 🙂

So, if I had to put a label on the kind of parenting I’m aiming for…

Respectful parenting is my go-to choice of words.

Although I don’t always manage it.

In fact I feel like I’m failing dismally some days, but that’s okay. Those difficult times, they’re the ones we learn and grow from most.

If you’re having one of those days or just looking for a bit of reassurance, check out my posts on parenting doubt and the benefits of mistakes.

But also, this isn’t purely aspirational. Respectful parenting is a practice we’ve been practising for almost twenty years.

Early on in my journey to taking a kinder path, I discovered the concept of ‘attachment parenting’. And from that, so much else I’d been woefully unaware of. Some small matters of full term breastfeeding, natural learning, even home education wasn’t on my radar, until it was 🙂

Words have power. And the language we use to describe ourselves and our intentions matter. Expanding our understanding, challenging our thinking and inspiring our actions.

So, let’s take a stroll to…

Dictionary corner

I wanted to see what the dictionary says about respect and respectful, hoping it fell in with my ideas about respectful parenting. And it didn’t let me down.

Some extracts from dictionary definitions I found…

  • admiration felt or shown for someone you believe has good ideas or qualities
  • politeness, honour and care towards someone we consider important
  • due regard for the feelings and rights of others
  • a feeling that something is right or important and you should not attempt to change it or harm it

So, what is respectful parenting?

For me, there are 7 main elements –

Loving our children

Of course we love our children, but more than that we want to be as sure as we can be, that they feel that love. That our children feel supported, valued and adored. And that we celebrate them for who they are rather than attempting to change them into who we think they should be.

Children need at least one person in their life who thinks the sun rises and sets on them, someone who delights in their existence and loves them unconditionally.

Pam Leo

Putting our relationships first

As much as we can, respectful parenting is about putting our relationships with our children first. Above our fears or desires for their future, the judgements and expectations of others and all those ideas about what we ‘should’ be doing.

Easier some days, and certainly easier for some of us than others (love Lucy’s acknowledgment of this at the end of this post). Yet recognising that our connections with our children matter most is a huge part of respectful parenting and helps guide our daily interactions, our decision-making and our problem-solving.

Trusting our children

Perhaps the defining feature of respectful parenting, and where it differs most from much of the parenting advice we’re generally exposed to…

Respectful parenting is about trusting our children, and believing in their capacity and competence as beautifully complex and complete humans. Not that our children magically have all the ‘right’ answers or will never make mistakes, they’re human, just like us 🙂

But as respectful parents, we trust our children’s intentions and their motivations, we trust that they’re always learning and we trust that they’re the ones with the inside scoop on themselves.

Honouring their preferences

And with trust, it becomes much easier to honour their preferences. We want our children to build their decision-making muscles while we’re on hand to support them. To know their views matter to us and and that they have the right to make choices about their own lives.

At the same time, though, respectful parenting recognises our children don’t have the same experience, knowledge or power we do. And that we have choices too, in how we use our own experience, knowledge and power. Not leaving them to flounder alone, but choosing to partner with our children, supporting them as they navigate the world.

Acknowledging their feelings

Respectful parenting encourages and allows children to express their feelings, recognising them as a form of communication. Rather than shutting them down or minimising their emotions, we want to stay close and connected, helping our children to process and release strong feelings in ways that are healthy for them and others around them.

Accepting that we won’t always understand why others feel the way they do, healing hurts from our own childhoods and maintaining healthy boundaries, all part of the ongoing work of respectful parenting.

Paying attention

To all of the above 🙂 To ourselves and how we’re feeling –

How I respond as a mother usually has more to do with how I’m FEELING than what my child is DOING.

Bridgett Miller

And, of course, paying attention to our children, spending time with them and having fun. Not only does this give us opportunities to connect on a deep emotional level, get to know each other as people and build those bonds that will last a lifetime.

But these strong connections encourage our curiosity and interest leaving us better equipped to effectively meet our children’s needs. And less likely to make inaccurate and unhelpful assumptions that can damage our relationships.

Accepting our responsibility

Not only do we have a moral and practical responsibility to meet our children’s needs. To love and care for them, honouring their preferences, acknowledging their feelings and giving them our trust.

But we also have a responsibility to be someone worthy of their trust. Someone they can turn to, rely on and be sure of. We get to be our children’s first guide on this glorious trip of a lifetime, and we have a responsibility to do the best we can, for them, for us and for the future of our communities and our planet.

Respecting children teaches them that even the smallest, most powerless, most vulnerable person deserves respect, and that is a lesson our world desperately needs to learn.

L. R. Knost

And so we end, where we began, with an L. R. Knost quote. If you’d like to read more of her beautiful words, you can find out about her and her books here and read a book review I wrote here.

I’d love to know what respectful parenting means to you. If you agree or disagree with my thoughts, or would like to add more of your own, please share in the comments. I love to hear from you.

Look out for more posts on respectful parenting coming soon. Please subscribe to the blog if you’d like to be notified of these as soon as they go live. And if you can’t wait for the next one, there’s lots of content on respectful parenting in the parenting and learning sections of the blog, you’re always welcome to come mooch around.

Wishing you all a wonderful week of love and kindness in your home, and in your lives x


  1. Ah, this is good to read, Hayley. I appreciate how you’ve broken it down into those elements because it really is a much bigger topic than it first appears. Those two words , “respectful parenting” sounds so obvious, but it’s a deeper journey than it first appears, I’ve found, so I love that you’ve done another piece with that focus. I always appreciate your links and quotes. As usual, I’ll be popping back to dive deeper into a couple I’m not as familiar with:).

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Erin, always love to hear your thoughts. Agree, a deeper journey, for sure, and an ongoing one too. But so worth it 🙂

  2. Daisy says:

    An amazing fundamentals post to add to your collection!! Love the structure of this post, felt like you were taking me on a tour around your thoughts and the info you’ve gathered over the years. Happy new year xxx

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Daisy. Really appreciate that. Couldn’t have got here without your beautiful inspiration 🙂

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